The space was filled with folding chairs; a stage and microphone were set up at the front. The slick, white walls rose up to glass railings on the second level, giving the feel of a contemporary amphitheatre. Floor to ceiling glass windows on the second level let natural light pour in upon the diverse crowd that had gathered for the event.
“Alright judges, let’s see those scores,” Lance Newman Jr., Executive Director of Young Poets of Louisville and the host of the first poetry slam this year, called from the stage. Tentatively, six people scattered among the crowd of nearly 50 lifted their whiteboards into the air.
Newman squinted as he surveyed the scores, rubbing his eyes as he strained to see a sign in the back row.
“You need glasses, man!” shouted a voice in the crowd.
“I need something,” Newman answered, laughing. “Alright, let’s see these scores. I got an 8.2,” he said, drawing loud boos from the crowd. “I got an 8.7,” more boos. “And I got a 9.0,” now a few cheers from the crowd. “9.2,” the applause from the crowd grew. “Another 9.2, and finally, I’ve got a 9.8,” Newman said, drawing out the eight for emphasis. At this, the crowd exploded.
“Remember,” Newman began, spreading a wide grin across his face, “It’s not about the points–”
“It’s about the poetry,” the crowd shouted in response.
“Alright y’all, that’ll bring an end to the first round of Young Poets of Louisville’s first slam of the season,” Newman said. “And let’s all remember to give a big thanks to the Speed Art Museum, who has given us this amazing space to perform.”
After more than three years of construction, the Speed Art Museum reopened its newly crafted doors on March 12, with 30 hours of non-stop activities and entertainment. The remodeling has provided many opportunities for programs that target the community’s youth, like the poetry slams.
Every month, the Young Poets of Louisville turn the lower floor of the Speed into a stage for their slam. Among the crowd, there are young and old, but the most notable age group is teens, who flock from all areas of town and represent a wide range of races and gender identities. The teens use the space to not only share their poetry, but also to meet and collaborate with other people their age.
“We’re a hub of creativity,” said Laura Ross, Public Relations Manager. “You can come to Art Sparks and make something. There’s all kind of different things.”
While the Speed’s remodeling changed many aspects of museum, one was kept. The expansion of the already existent Art Sparks has created the biggest attraction for youth of all ages since the remodel. Art Sparks is an interactive area where people of all ages can make their own artwork and participate in various hands-on activities that allow for self-expression.
“It’s not just a play area for younger ages. It’s an area for all ages,”said Taylor Bothwell, Community Outreach and Studio Programs Coordinator.
Input from the community was an important aspect in the renovation and reopening of the Speed, Bothwell said. Because the museum wants to continue to receive feedback from the community, Bothwell and other coordinators are launching a new program called the Teen Advisory Council (TAC). TAC is comprised of teens who will weigh in on what types of workshops they think the Speed should offer for youth throughout the Louisville community.
“We want to have programs at the Speed that are for you and by you,” said Bothwell. “We are starting with a very small group that I hope to grow in the future. We want you to have ownership over the programs that you want to attend.”
Fall 2016 marks the inaugural year of TAC along with programming specifically aimed at youth ages 16 and up, like classes about screen printing and smartphone photography. Bothwell and other curators designed such workshops so that students could learn how to use everyday materials to create their own works of art.
Another way the Speed is reaching out to the Louisville community is through a program called “Wall Together.” The first participants in the program were students from Shawnee High School, who had their photographs and interviews published in the Speed’s Satterwhite Gallery. Wall Together seeks to make its participants proficient in a certain medium and provides them with a place to display their artwork.
Jacy Brice (16), a junior at Shawnee, described her experience with Wall Together as a new way to meet people with different backgrounds.
“It was my first time going to the Speed,” Brice said. “It was fun and it made me reconsider having a career in photography.”
Elizabeth Holladay, an art teacher at Shawnee, oversaw the program at her school and went with her students to see their photography on display. Holladay said that seeing her students have their work published in the Speed was one of her proudest moments, especially since teens have very little representation in institutions like the Speed.
“We are addressing the huge, empty hole of teenagers in the art museum, and that’s a really big deal to me,” Holladay said. “It’s always really little kids or grown-up adults, it’s never the inbetween stage.”
The lack of youth representation is something that the Speed is attempting to change.
“The perception of the Speed before was that it was for older people,” Bothwell said. “It had a the reputation of being a little boring.”
To combat its public perception, the Speed held focus groups with people of different ages and backgrounds to find out what kind of space they wanted the Speed to be.
“We tried to really listen to the community and respond,” Bothwell said. “Another great opportunity we’ve had is our free Sundays; those have brought in people who had never visited the art museum before.”
Adding to the new opportunities, the renovations have made the new space more open and expansive, allowing curators to introduce collections and exhibits the Speed has never seen before. For visitors who are coming to see the museum for the first time after the renovation, they can see a straight shot into galleries of the past and present – what used to be and what is now the Speed Museum.
“You’ll always see something different, we’re always moving art throughout the gallery and there are always exhibitions that are changing,” said Scott Erbes, the Chief Curator and Curator of Decorative Art and Design at the Speed.
While more than 90 percent of the artwork on display is donated or on loan to the Speed, some pieces are purchased for exhibition, like that of Sarah Lyon.
“I initially had shows in nontraditional galleries in Louisville and then the current curator of the Speed came to a show, saw the pieces, and acquired them,” Lyon said.
One of her pieces is a photograph called “Cork in Bottle.” A liquor store on Cane Run Road named Cork N Bottle inspired Lyon to take the photograph.
Lyon said that she wasn’t sure if the curator would actually publish the two photographs he bought, “Cork in Bottle” and “Indiana Farmhouse.” When she found they were on display and actually got to see them on the walls during the opening weekend, she was very excited and felt truly validated as an artist.
“We have between 900-1000 works of art on view at any given moment right now, not counting the sneaker exhibition that’s here for a little while,” Erbes said.
The sneaker exhibit Erbes referenced is called “Out Of The Box,” and features the evolution of everyday footwear and hip-hop culture over the course of 150 years. Out of the Box is the Speed’s newest exhibit and is part of a traveling show that has already traveled to Brooklyn and Atlanta.
However, the Speed is incorporating graffiti by local artists to make the traveling show a unique experience to Louisville.
The smell of fresh spray-paint lingered throughout the empty exhibition room. Braylyn Stewart, a professional graffiti artist, was working on his third mural, “Cards vs. Cats,” for “Out of the Box.” “Out of the box” includes shoes worn during a game by the famous John Wall, a former University of Kentucky basketball player and current player for Washington Wizards and Yeezys by Kanye West.The exhibit will be accompanied by hip-hop tracks that tell the cultural history of the different shoes.
“Having a show like ‘Out of the Box’ will attract people who might not be interested in looking at works of art from our permanent collection,” said Anne Taylor, Chief Engagement Officer. “My husband, who isn’t into art, went to UK and heard John Wall’s tennis shoes were going to be in the sneaker exhibition and he was excited to be able to come and see it.”
“Out of the Box” launched with a viewing of the film, “Free to Run” directed by Pierre Morath inside the recently added cinema. The Speed Cinema includes a 142-seat theatre with up-to-date technology, including a new projection system and will showcase a diverse range of American and International films twice a day. “Out of the Box” officially opened on Sept. 10 and ends on Nov. 27.
The new mission of the Speed is to increase the number of new faces entering the building, which is made possible by hosting programs that aim to engage all members of the Louisville community. Taylor and Erbes said that they have seen an increase in youth of all ages, but they still haven’t gotten as many teens as they aim to have walking through the doors. They hope that after TAC begins the Speed will see more young people attending their events.
And slowly but surely, teen are coming to new events and exposing themselves to new things. As the poetry slam came to a close, members of the audience applauded the poets and began to clear out as the cleaning staff moved in. The museum falls into a comfortable silence, shutting down to prepare few a new day of activity.